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nents of the landscape, and they lead us in imagination to many a sylvan retreat. But how little do we really know of our trees as individuals or species. As we said in an earlier ramble, “How few of us Londoners, as we walk the rural highway, or the park, or the woodland, can read in the leaf or physiognomy of the individual tree the tribe to which it belongs!" There are many, doubtless, who can tell the oak from his fellow foresters (especially if they see the acorn); others can point out to you the horse-chestnut (particularly when it is in blossom). But what of the poplars and willows? What of the sycamore, maple, and plane, the alders, the birches, and the elms ? Of our evergreen grandiflora, as well as our deciduous trees, what charms remain to tempt or to charm us into knowledge, admiration, and pleasure!" With these sentiments we took a ramble in the early summer in our West End parks, and found the beginning of an escape from our self-condemnation. Let us to-day continue our acquaintance with sylvan Nature, and let the famous Burnham Beeches be the scene of our resort.
We leave the City at the Saturday Half-holiday hour of two. How many lovers of the rural picturesque are we leaving behind us in the marts and shops on our route, where business should have ceased for the day! Among them are the Cynthias of the counter, as the poet Crabbe has courteously named them. A wistful glance from the window to the street catches your eye, and you commiserate the fate of the imprisoned one. Perhaps, to her, at this moment,
The street is now no street; she pranks
In fancy's realm
A leafy elm.
May her vision soon be realised, and soon may the gaslight hours of the City on the Saturday be for ever a thing of the past.
Our arrival station for Burnham Beeches is Slough. The railway journey from London to Slough proves to be the most unpicturesque and uninteresting eighteen miles we know in our environs. The country is flat, treeless, and devoted to brickmaking. We throw a little archæological glamour on the scene by remarking that
we are travelling along the ancient valley of the Thames. How ancient is this valley, and how great the changes it has seen in its inhabitants and physical surroundings, let the bones of the mammoth and rhinoceros that are found in its loam and gravel, and the signs of an Arctic climate associated with them, prepare us to learn. The soil which here overlies the clayey foundation, and supplies the materials for the bricks, is the subsidiary deposit of the flood-waters of the river, brought here in times far remote from the present, when the Thames was a greater river than now.
From Slough the Burnham Beeches are about four miles distant. The nearest road is on the “ down” side of the railway. But let us take Stoke Pogis Churchyard, the scene of Gray's “Elegy," on our way. It will only add two miles to our journey. You cross the railway for this purpose. Before you; amid a group of trees to the left, and about a mile distant, the whitening spire of the ivy-mantled tower rises from the foliage. In fifteen minutes the churchyard is before you. It impresses you at once as the scene for a pensive Christian idyll. You trace with ease the landscape allusions of the elegy. Here are
Those rugged elms, that yew tree's shade.
The shade of the venerable yew has fallen on many more mouldering heaps since the poet's lines were penned. The tree is ample. in its branches and its spiny sombre foliage, and seems likely to survive for many a year “ the little lives of men.” Just beyond its shadow, blue bells are growing.
From Stoke Pogis to Burnham Beeches (four miles) the landscapes are again poor-although Windsor's royal castle keep is nearly everywhere visible. Hedge-row elms have been trimmed nearly to the summit, and stand against the horizon like gigantic bottle brushes on end. A market-garden aspect of Nature prevails.
* I am inclined to consider it as resulting from fluviatile action, and that at a period when a river far more deep and extensive than the present stream (the Thames) flowed along the valley.- Prof. Morris, Jour. Geo. Soc. vol. vi. pp. 203—4.
The brick-fields at West Drayton and thence to Southall, are most noticeable on the journey to Slough. The level of the ground has been evenly lowered for many acres by the excavation of the earth for brickmaking. See Mr.Whitaker, op.cit. p.86.
But at East Burnham there is an end to our complaints. The Common stretches before us all glowing with purple and gold in
the slant autumnal sun. But where are the beeches ? Five or six • pollards to the left solicit you, but you soon see by their ribbed and
corded trunks that they are not beeches. Let us cross the Common and enter those sylvan shades opposite.
Here, at last, are Burnham Beeches. They are not half-a-dozen wayside spectres; they are a wood of themselves.
The carriageroad across the Common leads you through their midst. In their own solemn shade they encompass you on either hand. They stand like the monster growths of some ancient vegetable world. Here is, indeed, society for a long summer's day. At Knockholt Beeches you have, perhaps, found to your surprise that the trees are of little interest or importance. They are a landmark on the horizon of a wider landscape than this, but as individuals, or as a group, the beeches at Knockholt have little value for the visitor. Here at Burnham, the lover of the sylvan and the picturesque, and the ardent naturalist alike are rewarded. For the artist, the trees change their grotesque profiles and attitudes with every fresh angle of observation. You can count fifty from one spot. They are all giants, and in the twilight of the wood,
The nodding horror of whose shady brows,
they look half-human. Let us walk up to some of the huger of these Anakim. Here is one which measures 18 feet in girth. Another measures 21 feet. Most of them, judging by the measurements we took, must have a girth of from 14 feet to 18 feet. Some are visibly hollow, and some are making new wood, which looks from the portholes of the trunk like recent carpenter's work.
But what of the branches and the foliage, which so distinguish the beech from its forest brethren? What of the head and the limbs of such giants as these? The answer to these inquiries gives you the history of Burnham Beeches from an early crisis in their growth. Burnham Beeches are, indeed, a family of giants; but they have been maimed, dismembered, and stunted. Like Samson, they were once shorn of their locks; and like Samson still, in some
aspects, they stand “to visitants a gaze," a wonder and a commiseration. Since maltreatment in their early days, which robbed them of their natural charm, they have shot out great wild and distorted branches, which seem to grope blindly in the air.
The Burnham Beeches, then, are pollards. They have still a spread of foliage under whose shadow you can retreat from the sun. But they have never recovered that treatment which Cowper has described in his picture of
that had once a head,
The Burnham Beeches are not, then, representative specimens of the naturally-grown beech. They are picturesque, quaint, weird, solemn, gigantic in girth, but they have not the proportions and beauty of the natural tree. Nature's beech is no stunted, deformed giant.
The friend of all the winds, wide-armed he towers,
and he is at once " the Adonis as well as the Hercules, of our sylva." His trunk is itself a beautiful and distinguishing character. Not furrowed and ribbed like the bark of the elm, but with a smooth skin of a beautiful light grey, a noble and soaring pillar carries the eye upwards to clustered columns which spread aloft.
Tradition ascribes the pollarding of the Burnham Beeches to Cromwell's soldiers. Probably the only value of the statement is in the testimony it gives to the age of the trees.
But notwithstanding the maltreatment they have received, and to which they perhaps owe their preservation, picturesqueness, and repute, the Burnham Beeches have still enough foliage to sustain, especially in the Autumn, the peculiar glory of their species. Of the beech, Mr. Grindon says that amid the varied and countless hues supplied by oak, chestnut, and elm in the fall of the year, Fagus sylvatica lifts a magnificence of foliage distinct and unrivalled. It eclipses every other tree in the splendour of its auburn and golden dyes. The thin, smooth leaves are peculiarly adapted to reflect the rays of the setting sun. Their colour is so rich and lustrous as to place the beech in the front rank of our painted foliage trees. And these venerable foresters at Burnham maintain the family character. Like the rest of the oak family-the chestnut, the hazel, and the hornbeam—the beech has its fruit in the form of a nut. Let us take away with us a few of the leaves sere and yellow though they be, as well as the triangular nut, as souvenirs of Burnham Beeches. How many of us can tell the beech from the hornbeam by its leaves ?
But we must now take leave of this sylvan scene. The old giants, the youthful and slender silver birches that attend them and set off their monstrous torsoes, and the intermingled hollies paint their last picture on our lingering eyes. Where else can we find such a spot ?* Surely it is still to Faun and Dryad known, to the oak crowned Sisters and their chaste-eyed Queen, to Satyrs and sylvan boys,
Peeping from forth their alleys green. Here in these ancient beechen shades, if anywhere, “the fair humanities of old religion " should still survive.
We have now a good four miles walk to Slough Station.“ Burnham Beeches,” we say, as we cross East Burnham Common to return, treading as we go upon grey and crispy lichens between the glowing heather and mellowing fern, “Burnham Beeches are wonderful giant specimens of the beech pollard. Even their imperfections suggest to you the nobility of stature and deportment of the natural tree." What a delightful sylvan holiday have they afforded us this afternoon, and how many there are in London who should have accompanied us to enjoy the scene! The sight has determined us to note more closely in the future the beauty of pillar, branch, spray, and leaf in the more common specimens of the beech.' At Burnham the beech is certainly the Hercules of our sylva; elsewhere we may
find it the Adonis.
Thro' that green-glooming twilight of the
* Burnham Beeches and Burnham Common may well have suggested to the poet Tennyson some of the descriptive lines in the Holy Grail, Here, at Burnham, are the “hundred stately beeches,” the “great hollies under them,” and the “fern and heath around.” The picture is continued thus :
See also Scott's Ivanhoe for a forest scene of beeches, hollies, and copsewood, chap. i.